Overruled, p.16
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       Overruled, p.16
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         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  Pebbers?

  Peppers.

  Uh-oh.

  • • •

  “You unbelievable bastard!”

  “It was an accident!”

  “Accident my ass!”

  “I didn’t know—”

  “Nana said she tol’ you he was allergic to peppers!” Jenny yells from the side of her truck, after a Benadryl-chugging JD is loaded into the passenger seat.

  “I put pepper flakes in it, Jenn—I thought he was allergic to actual peppers! Not the goddamn flakes of peppers!”

  And the awful irony of it? I’m telling the truth. After this I’m gonna have to seriously recalibrate my horseshit detector when listening to the outrageous claims of innocence from my clients. Apparently sometimes it’s not utter horseshit—no matter how much it may sound like it.

  “I hate you!”

  “That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”

  “Extreme!” she screeches, making me flinch. “You tried to poison him!”

  I kick the tire of the truck. “If I wanted him poisoned he’d be fuckin’ dead!” I run a hand down my face. “But, maybe you should think about postponin’ the weddin’; at least until JD doesn’t look so”—I motion to the passenger window—“like that.”

  Her eyes flare. So do her nostrils. “That’s why you did this? You think you can sabotage my weddin’, you rotten sonofabitch?”

  “What? No!”

  Now that is actual horseshit.

  “You listen to me and you listen good,” she hisses. “I’m gettin’ married on Saturday and I don’t care if I have to wheel him, half-dead, down the aisle and prop him up against the goddamn organ to do it! Until then you stay away from us! I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to hear you—I don’t want to look at you!”

  “When did you turn so fuckin’ stubborn?” I yell.

  She stomps her way around the back of the truck, replying, “When you became so fuckin’ selfish!”

  “Jenny! Wait . . .”

  But she doesn’t. She does the opposite of waiting—climbs in the truck and drives off. To take JD home and nurse him back to health.

  Sofia stands beside me on the driveway, watching the taillights fade. “Well, that didn’t go as planned,” I grumble.

  “Was it really an accident?” she asks with a lifted brow.

  “Yes! It really was.” Then I pause, and rephrase. “A wonderful, serendipitous accident.”

  She grins and I give my smirk free rein.

  Then Sofia gasps. “Holy shitballs!”

  “What? What’s wrong?”

  She snaps her fingers and points to the sky, smiling broadly with discovery. “Allergic reaction!”

  “Yeah?” I question.

  “The perfect murder. Triggering an allergic reaction.” She folds her arms, proud of herself.

  “Really?” I ask with a straight face. “My life is fallin’ apart, and you’re still playin’ the perfect murder game?”

  She shrugs. “Well . . . it’s a good one. Brent and Jake will be impressed.”

  16

  Stanton

  I’ve never seen one so big. It’s too big.”

  “It’s not too big.”

  “It’s monstrous! It’ll kill me.”

  “I promise, you’re gonna love it, darlin’. Touch it.”

  She gasps. “I can’t.”

  I take Sofia’s hand and press it against warm flesh. Forcing her fingers to stroke.

  “See? It likes you. Now you just have to ride it—then it’ll really like you.”

  On Monday morning I finally brought Sofia to the co-op to get a decent pair of boots. She fawned over a pair of dark brown leather riding boots with pink stitching and a hat to match. And I have to hand it to her—the woman can wear a fucking hat like nobody’s business.

  Once we got home, it seemed like a good idea to put her equipment to good use.

  And take her horseback riding.

  She rests her hand on the black coat and sighs. “So this is how I die.”

  I roll my eyes. “Since when are you so dramatic? Or a coward for that matter? You’ve got a dog the size of a small bull.”

  We’re outside the stables, saddling Blackjack, a gentle, even-tempered stallion—the first horse Presley rode by herself.

  Sofia eyes him warily. “My dog isn’t going to throw me off and break my neck. Or kick me. Or trample me.”

  I hoist the saddle onto Blackjack’s back. “No—he’ll just rip your throat out if you piss him off.”

  She takes exception to my observation. “That is a vile Rottweiler stereotype. Sherman would never do that! He’s my sweet baby boy.”

  “I’ve never seen a baby with teeth like his.” I tighten the cinches and secure the last buckle. Then I slap Blackjack’s flank—the way I’d like to be slapping Sofia’s ass.

  “Now saddle up.”

  Sofia gazes up at the massive animal. Her eyes are round, her expression all intimidated and vulnerable. And part of me must be a sick sonofabitch, ’cause it’s turning me the fuck on.

  She takes one step forward, lifts her hands, bends her knee . . . and completely pusses out.

  “I can’t! I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I just can’t!”

  I laugh, patting her shoulder. “All right, don’t have a heart attack—it’ll be more fun this way anyway.”

  I swing up onto the back of the horse, look down, and hold my hand out to her.

  Her brows furrow. “I don’t know if humans were meant to mount something so large.”

  I smile. “Come on, Soph—trust me. I got you.”

  Sofia takes a breath, grasps my hand, and puts her left foot into the stirrup. Blackjack stays perfectly still as I pull and she swings her leg up and over his back, settling in front of me.

  Her denim-clad ass presses right up against my dick. Her back leans against my chest, her hair brushes my face, and I smell gardenias. This ride is going to be the best kind of awful. Feeling her, holding her tight, but not being able to do anything about it—delicious fucking torment.

  I wrap my arm around her waist, pulling her back, holding the reins in my hands. “Relax, Sofia,” I tell her softly. “I would never let anythin’ happen to you.”

  She sinks against me, turns her head and smiles. “Okay.”

  Then we start to move.

  “Whoa!” she squeaks, gripping my thighs. “Easy! Remember—slow and steady wins the race.”

  “But hard and fast is a lot more fun.”

  We trot uphill, and I know just the spot I want to show her. It’s the highest point of my parents’ land, where you can see acres of grass—like an emerald ocean.

  “You know,” I tease, “the only thing better than riding a horse is being ridden on one.”

  Sofia laughs. “Are you speaking from experience?”

  I tip my hat back. “Only from my vivid and sadly unfulfilled fantasies. It’d take a little thought—holdin’ on in just the right way, balancin’ your legs around my waist or over my shoulder . . .”

  “Are you trying to distract me so I’m not afraid?”

  I lick my lips, smiling. “Maybe . . . maybe not. Is it workin’?”

  Her hands go from gripping my thigh, to rubbing. “Why, as a matter of fact, it is. Tell me more . . .”

  • • •

  “My God . . . it’s so beautiful.”

  I’ve seen this view a thousand times, but being here with Sofia, seeing the delight on her face, the wonder—it’s contagious. Makes me grateful all over again for where I’m from, the blessings we had growing up. She sighs, and together we enjoy the quiet, gazing at the green pastures and valleys dotted with brown and black cattle.

  “Hmm.”

  She looks over her shoulder at me. “What?”

  I point at the grouped livestock. “See how they’re bunched together like that?”

  Sofia nods.

  I gaze up at the sky, looking for a sign, but there’s nothing to see but blue.


  “When cattle cluster, usually means a storm’s comin’.”

  Now she’s looking up at the sky too. “You mean they can sense it?”

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s amazing.”

  I shrug. “It is pretty cool.” I offer her the reins. “You want to steer?”

  She wiggles her fingers, smiling giddily. And it makes me smile back.

  “You think I’m ready?”

  “Definitely.”

  She pats Blackjack’s neck and takes the reins.

  “All right, Blackjack, work with me.”

  The next twenty minutes are spent with me explaining how to ride a horse—make him turn, stop, speed up. Then Sofia is on her own—and she does pretty damn good.

  And we’re talking, about nothing and everything—the ins and outs of ranching, her father’s construction business, and how we think things are going at the firm without us. Sofia tells me about the first time her parents let her ride the subway alone in Chicago, and I tell her about riding these trails after school with Jenny.

  I laugh as I remember. “When we were young, we’d try to find the perfect tree for climbin’. Then, when we were older, we tried to find the perfect tree for screwin’ against.”

  Sofia chuckles, and then she turns somber. We sway with Blackjack’s soft steps, and she asks me, “You really love her, don’t you?”

  Without pausing, I answer, “Yeah, I do.”

  She’s quiet for a few moments, watching the ground. Then she asks, “Have you thought about what you’ll do if you can’t talk her out of getting married?”

  I shake my head. “Failure’s not an option—I don’t do plan B’s.”

  Sofia turns to look at my face. And there’s something swimming in those hazel eyes I can’t read. “Stanton . . . you mean a lot to me. And I . . . lately . . . it feels . . .”

  I brush her hair back. “You mean a lot to me too, Soph.”

  “You know . . . if you do talk Jenny out of marrying JD, there’s a high probability that she’ll want you two to be exclusive. And if that were the case . . . I wouldn’t want things to be awkward or strained between us. I don’t want to lose . . . your friendship.”

  I lean forward and kiss her forehead. And I promise her, “You’re not going to lose me—I’d never let that happen.”

  • • •

  Later in the afternoon, after we get back from riding, I try to call Jenny. But it goes straight to voice mail. I text her, once, twice, three times—but hours later, there’s no answer. So I call again after dinner. Voice mail.

  Fuck. This.

  It’s dark when I get out of the truck in front of Jenny’s house, knock on the door, and ask for her.

  “She won’t come down, Stanton,” Wayne tells me, stepping outside, chewing on the straw in his mouth. “Says she’s still mad.”

  “I’m not leavin’ until I see her. I’ll sleep right fuckin’ here on the porch steps.”

  “One between the eyes will get ye leavin’!” Nana shouts from inside the front parlor. “Get me the shells, Wayne!”

  A few minutes after Wayne goes in to try again, Jenny comes stomping down the stairs—hair down, wrapped in a lavender terry-cloth robe, and spitting mad.

  “I’ve been taking care of JD all day and I have work in the mornin’! I don’t want to get into this with you right now, Stanton.”

  “Then you should’ve picked up the goddamn phone when I called earlier. We need to talk.”

  Arms crossed and scowling, she leans forward and declares, “I’ve done all the talkin’ I’m gonna do with you.”

  My jaw clenches and I take a step closer to her. She takes one back. “Tell me somethin’, Jenn—are you really that angry with me?” My eyes drift over her face, her clenched hands, her tiny waist cinched with her robe’s belt. Then they settle on her eyes and I ask in a low voice, “Or are you scared to be alone with me? Afraid to listen to me? Cause you know this is a mistake. Because you still love me.”

  Her mouth clamps closed and her chin rises. “Go home and spend some time with your daughter. You need to have her in school by eight tomorrow morning.”

  Her nonanswer is all the answer I need.

  “I know what time school starts.”

  “Then good night, Stanton.” She hurries to the door, into the house, like she can’t get away fast enough.

  I spin the keys around my finger. “Sweet dreams, Jenny.”

  • • •

  Twenty minutes later I’m climbing the stairs to the bedrooms, trying to think of something new . . . unexpected . . . that’ll bring Jenn to her senses.

  As I start to open the door to Carter’s old room I hear voices behind the closed door of mine—giggles and girly chatter. Grinning, I open that door and there, sitting on my bed decked out in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, are my baby girl, my sister, and my . . . Sofia.

  “Hey, Daddy!” Presley greets me with a toothy smile. She holds up her hands, bright blue, polka-dotted fingernails facing out. “Miss Sofia gave us mani-pedis!”

  Mary shows me her fingers and toes—red with orange flowers—as she moves to the overstuffed chair in the corner, making room for me on the bed.

  “Beautiful. Y’all have the prettiest nails in town.”

  “And we’re watchin’ a movie,” Presley says, scooting closer toward Sofia. “The Lion King.”

  “The Lion King, huh? Don’t think I’ve seen that one yet.”

  I climb on the bed as a montage begins on the screen—two lions having a date in the jungle.

  “How’d it go?” Sofia asks quietly, passing me a bowl of popcorn.

  My eyes tell her everything I can’t say. “It went.”

  Presley leans her head against my chest and I settle in, kissing the top of her head—enjoying having her close. I glance over at Sofia as she places a piece of popcorn on her tongue, licking butter from her pretty pink fingertip. And there’s something about the whole thing—her, here in my bed, with my sister, my daughter—that feels warm and right, and makes her look even more beautiful that I’ve always thought she was.

  “I want a Simba of my own one day,” my sister sighs. “Some strong, hairy man who’ll roll around on the jungle floor with me.”

  Hairy?

  I frown at Mary. “I don’t even know how in the hell I’m supposed to respond to that.”

  “Not me,” Presley says disgustedly. “All the boys I know are short. And ugly.”

  I pat her head. “That’s right—all boys are short and ugly. Like trolls.”

  Sofia laughs at my troll face.

  Presley nods. “I do like this song, though.”

  Sofia practically squeals when she hears that. “Oh my God, Elton John—best singer ever! If your daddy says it’s okay, I’ll download all of his greatest songs for you.”

  My daughter’s big blue eyes look to me for affirmation.

  “Daddy says it’s okay.”

  And I get a hug in return.

  With my arm across the pillows at our backs, my hand rests just beside Sofia’s head—close enough to touch her. So I do—massaging her scalp, running my fingers through the soft, dark strands of her hair, relishing the feel of them sliding over my palm.

  She leans her head into my touch with a contented sigh. And together, we all watch the rest of the movie.

  17

  Stanton

  About ten o’clock the next night, we pull into to my brother’s trailer lot, among a sea of pickup trucks. It’s like spring break in the country—teenage kids everywhere. Mary and Marshall disappear into the throng of red-plastic-cup-holding, walking, talking hormones. Sofia pauses to look around as we walk up the path to the door—twinkling lights sparkle in the trees, a full moon hangs in the sky, Led Zeppelin floats out from somewhere in the back.

  “It’s nice here,” she says. “Peaceful.”

  While she’s checking out the compound, I check her out—again. She looks drop-dead gorgeous in tight, dark blue jeans, knee-high heele
d black boots, and a V-neck sleeveless white top that clings in all the right places. Her hair is thick and bouncy, curled at the ends, and a long string of pearls hangs around her neck. My grandmother used to wear pearls—but she never wore them as well as Sofia Santos.

  Before I can open the door to the trailer, it’s jerked open for us, and one of my brother’s blond hippie followers—Sadie or Sal—stumbles out. She spots us with happy, glassy eyes.

  “Heeey!” She hugs us, smelling like marijuana. “Welcome to the jungle! We’re gonna turn on the Slip ’N Slide down the hill, y’all comin’?”

  Sofia smiles indulgently. “Maybe later.”

  After hippie girl staggers away, Sofia says, “It’s like college all over again.”

  I snort. “Columbia wasn’t anything like this, and I lived in a goddamn fraternity house.”

  Just then a guy who looks more my age goes streaking past us—butt-ass naked. I cover Sofia’s eyes. “All right, it is like college all over again.”

  We head inside, pushing apart the strings of turquoise beads hanging down in the doorway. A stick of incense burns on a shelf, filling the room with a pungent odor. Carter smiles broadly when he sees us through the crowd of bodies that fills the room to capacity. He hugs me, bare chested except for a tan leather vest and prayer beads. “Welcome. Glad you could make it.” Then he hugs Sofia—for a while. “Let’s get you something to drink.”

 
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